REPOST Today’s AMI Devotional Thought, first posted on November 5, 2015, is provided by Pastor Yohan Lee. He is a friend of AMI who in the past has served as a staff at several AMI churches. He is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Cairn University (MA).
Devotional Thought for This Morning
“Skimming Off the Top”
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
When I worked as an engineer, the company that employed me had a multi-service contract with the county. This basically meant that for smaller jobs, the county would simply hire us to do the work, without putting the job out to be bid on by other firms—this contract was like a license to print money! As the lead engineer for this one particular project, I put the proposal together and submitted it to the VP for approval, only to have it come back for almost double the amount of what I had calculated it would take to get done. I remember feeling that had if we had to compete for this project, this proposal would have been more reasonable, but my boss was using the multi-service contract to milk the county. What made it worse for me was that we were essentially stealing public money; I felt like such a dirty politician.
Now to be clear, I was too wimpy to flat out call out the higher-ups about the situation; however, I did subtly express my concerns. I could tell that my boss didn’t believe his numbers to be true either, but because he’d been inflating numbers on these contracts for so long, it really didn’t bother him. Plus, these types of benefits are why you want to win multi-service contracts in the first place.
What this encounter illustrated to me was that when it comes to money, benefits, and “skimming off the top,” there is often a deeply ingrained culture of wrong practice that is not easy to break. People almost see it as a birthright—you pay your dues, you win the contract, you get to the kickbacks. If I were Nehemiah, and the practice of gouging the people had for a long time been widely accepted (v. 15), I wonder how I would have responded? I would like to believe that I would have had the integrity to not even eat the governor’s allotment (v. 14), but knowing me, I think I would have rationalized the whole ordeal, saying, “The previous establishment taxed 40 shekels. I will slash taxes in half, and only take 20.”
In the end, you see why Nehemiah was able to act without any corruption: “But out of reverence for God I did not act like that” (v.15). This morning, ask yourself: Do you act in complete integrity out of reverence for God, or are you stuck in the hamster wheel of a culture of wrong practice? Understand this: getting off is going to be difficult, and it is probably going to cost you some money (as it did Nehemiah). But in the end, I hope that you will choose the difficult path that honors our Lord.
Prayer: Lord, help me to revere and love You more than worldly gain. Also give me eyes to see blind spots or areas where I have allowed time and culture to adversely impact me. Give me courage and boldness to act with complete integrity.
Bible Reading for Today: Acts 20
Lunch Break Study
Read Psalm 1: Blessed is the onewho does not walk in step with the wickedor stand in the way that sinners takeor sit in the company of mockers,2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,and who meditates on his law day and night.3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,which yields its fruit in seasonand whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.4 Not so the wicked!They are like chaffthat the wind blows away.5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Questions to Consider
1. Follow the progression of a soul in trouble in verse 1. Do you feel like you’ve subtly gotten in a bad spot?
2. Compare and contrast the righteous and the wicked.
3. Where are you in life?
1. The subtle nature of sin is, metaphorically speaking, that at first you are walking along with it, then you stop your motion and are standing in it; finally, you are sitting in it. All this can happen very gradually or subtly, if you are not aware.
2. The righteous delight in and meditate on God’s Word; they are steady and fruitful. The wicked, in contrast, waver and are on shaky footing.
3. This is a self-reflective question, but if it is the latter, remember the righteous person is rooted in God’s Word.
Are you stuck in a culture or in a pattern of behavior that does not honor God? Is God calling you to make a change? Do you feel like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit (Ps. 1:3). On the flip side, are there good habits you feel God calling you toward?